MY MEMORIES OF LITTLE PLUMSTEAD SCHOOL BY ROSEMARY HARDESTY (as I was then).
Little Plumstead school is so much bigger today than it was in the years 1939-45, when I attended. It was then a very small building of two rooms, with the head teacher’s house adjoining it at the roadside. The school playground, which was also so much bigger in those days, was still rough ground until it was given a tarmac surface in about 1948. Included in the school grounds was a long strip of land running from Witton Lane to the back garden of the Police House. This land has now been built on. At the time, half of it was the Head Teacher’s private vegetable garden and the remainder was divided into strips of small gardens, which the older boys of the school had to cultivate. They used to have gardening lessons once or twice a week. I cannot remember what happened to the produce! Three horse chestnut trees separated the gardens area from the playground. Beyond the gardens was a field belonging to the hospital, which was used for cereal growing or grazing for cows. Along the road side of the playground were hedges and two or three trees with masses of roots, which the girls used to play on. The only other building in sight was the house next to the playground, which was the Police House where I lived. A tall hedge separated it from the school with a gap in it which we would come through to school. One year this was guarded by our ferocious cockerel which would patrol the hedge when the children were playing nearby and even refused to allow my young brother back into the garden when lessons were over.
The smaller room of the school, which overlooked the playground, was used for the infants; the rest of the children were taught in the larger room. This was divided by a long blue curtain, which turned it into two classrooms. The head teacher, Mrs Brundish, used to take the older children at one end while Mrs Brister taught the middle range. This was quite distracting as we had to try to cut out what was happening on the other side of the curtain and concentrate on our own teacher. The infant teacher was Mrs Dunham. In both rooms the desks for two pupils sharing were arranged in lines, the naughtiest children having to sit in the front under the teacher’s eyes.
All the desks in the big room had two inkwells, as we had to dip old-fashioned pens into the ink to write. (The infants used pencils.) Ballpoint pens hadn’t been invented. We were given a new nib each term but if anything drastic happened, like dropping it like a dart into the floor, we were allowed a replacement. It was the job of the ink monitor to fill the ink wells but invariably there were spills, so most of the desks, as well as the exercise books, had ink smudges on them and most of us went home with inky fingers.
Once the whistle blew in the morning, all children would have to line up in classes – without uttering a sound – and file into the main room for prayers and a hymn. One of the teachers played the piano (or perhaps it was a pedal organ), which was in the middle of the main room. Once “Prayers” were over, the infants would leave for their own room and the dividing curtain would be drawn across.
The toilets were of the non-flush variety, outside at the back. The boys had to go out into the elements to get to theirs. The girls were allowed to go down a passageway between the main room and the head teacher’s house. I think it was the head teacher’s husband who had to empty them.
Because there were no facilities for carpentry at the school, and it was considered necessary for the boys to learn some sort of trade, every Tuesday the older boys would be taken by taxi to Blofield School to join the woodwork class there. I presume that this was when the girls were given sewing classes.
There was no sports ground but the school was given permission to use the field on the other side of Witton Lane to play football, cricket or rounders. The girls played netball in the playground. The boys were allowed to play football in the playground during playtime but only if they kicked the ball away from the school – this was because so many windows had been broken. From time to time the girls were allowed to take part in country dancing and if the weather was fine the gramophone would be taken into the playground.
The school was heated by coal fires, one at either end of the big room and one in the infants’ room. Obviously guards were placed in front of each, and if the children got wet while walking to school they were allowed to hang their clothes on the guards to dry. So there would often be steam rising and the smell of wet clothes.
As the catchment area was then a triangle from the Brick Kilns to Little Plumstead Green and Witton Green, many of the children had a long walk or cycle ride to school. I don’t remember anyone arriving by car. School dinners were brought to the school each day by van in grey metal containers – cooked I think at Thorpe School. The smell was never very appetising but as I lived next door, I used to escape for home cooking. Small bottles of free milk, one for each pupil, were delivered to the school each morning – I think by Barkers, who owned a farm on the road between Reeves Corner and Thorpe End. These came in crates, which in winter were placed in front of the fire in the hope that they would warm up by break time. I don’t think this was ever very successful but at least it melted the ice on the bottles and sometimes the frozen milk. Winters seemed to have been much colder then, because I remember that most years the playground would be covered in snow and we used to spend our playtimes careering down a long slide of ice from one side of the playground to the other. At least it seemed long then!
Every year the greatest horror was the arrival of the dentist’s van, which would be parked like a bit grey monster in the corner of the playground. We would all sit in dread for our name to be called, first for a check and then for any necessary extractions or fillings. Injections didn’t seem to be very effective and there were no high-speed drills. Some children would emerge holding bloody handkerchiefs to their mouths and in tears.
The second world war was being fought all the time I was a pupil here. The worst experience for us during these years was a bomb dropping on Little Plumstead Green, damaging some of the houses there, and children on the way to school having to jump into a wet ditch when they heard a German plane coming over with its machine guns firing. There was an air-raid shelter in the school grounds, where the older children would be led once the siren went. The infants would come to a shelter in the garden of the Police House. Everyone would remain below ground until the All Clear sounded. The shelters were dug deep into the ground with steps leading down. They were lined with board inside and the tops were covered with corrugated iron and a protective pile of soil. As my family were expected to sleep in our shelter if there was a bad air-raid, bunks had been built round the side, and the infants used to sit on these while the teachers would read to them or keep them occupied by singing. Fortunately these air-raids only happened once or twice in the daytime.
Some of the children who were at school with me and whose names I best remember were: Hazel Rice, Nora Bloomfield, Audrey Howes, Janet Trett, Joan Goulty, Irene Smith, Joy Andrews, Joyce Daynes, Stella Cole, Jean High, George and John Sarsby, John Oakley, Brian and Robert Simmons, Raymond Feek, Tommy London, Aubrey Capes, Russell Lawson. Some of them might have grandchildren among today’s pupils.
CLICK ON THE TITLES UNDER THE MAIN PICTURE TO READ THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN OAKLEY AND BOB SIMMONS AS WELL AS MEMORIES OF LOCAL HEROES, ETC